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Welcome!

Just a quick note to let you know I've moved my blog to the following address:

http://www.michellebenthamcreates.com

Please visit me at REDEEMED...RESTORED...RELEASED: One Woman's Story of Living Free to read more about what God is doing in my life and how He is working those things to set me free. Thanks so much for following, visiting, reading all about it and supporting me as you have done so many times these last few years. If you follow my other blogs, the posts from all three of my blogs are going to be transferred to the new digs for one big blog about our journey to restoration and freedom in Christ.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving

.Heather has invited us to join her this week in sharing our testimonies of thanksgiving in honor of God's Work in our lives and giving Him the glory as a result. Visit Heather HERE if you would like to know more about this opportunity or read the testimony of others who have made the journey with God and give Him the glory.
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My story begins 38 years ago. I was born the eldest of three children born to a civil servant and a stay at home mom. Both had been raised during the World War II era when Judeo-Christian values reigned, mothers often stayed home rather than worked in the marketplace and fathers were left to provide for their families. Both of my parents came from nominally Christian homes and both came to a saving relationship with Christ while children. However, wounds from their experiences with the church and life itself had left them broken and confused. My mother, though, had a strong desire to go to church and she and my father found a church home in Houston, Texas. Under the exegetical teachings of R. B. Theime, Jr. both of my parents found a personal relationship with Christ.
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These days Mr. Theime is in his 90s and suffering from Alhzeimer's but in the 50s and 60s he was a man considered to be ahead of his time in teaching from the Greek and Hebrew in his pulpit each week. With a strong military history and deep desire to see others know the Word - he taught from his heart in a militaristic and no-nonsense style. His teachings have left something to be desired for some in the Christian community, but for my parents it was a lifeline to God.
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My first visits to a church nursery were right there in Berachah Church. (You can read more about this pastor HERE.) After moving from Houston in 1972, my parents began to attend Wautaga Baptist Church where I had my first "God Encounter." One night at the end of a week long revival my parents attended the service. With no child care that night, I accompanied my parents to the gymnasium where aluminum chairs had been set up for the service. My father deposited me in all my frills and lace into the aluminum chair between he and my mother as they stood on either side and visited with the assembling congregants.
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A few minutes later the pastor of the church, Gaylan Riddle, began to work his way up the center aisle to the front of the church.
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My three year old mind had been involved in Sunday school just long enough to give me a good idea of who God might be, and, my father adds, what he might have looked like. Pastor Riddle began to ascend the stairs to the stage where the pulpit was located when I caught sight of him.
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He stood towering at more than six feet over the crowd with a strong appearance from his Native American heritage. His receding dark hair was just turning gray at the temples an his veins had the tendency to bulge slightly when he delivered the Gospel message. As he rose to his place on the stage, the gathering crowd grew quiet and began to take their seats.
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About this time, the epiphany landed fully on me as I stuck out my chubby little finger and declared for all to hear, "Look Daddy! There's God." Of course, this sent the entire room into a fit of raucous laughter, and mortified my father who had been raised to believe children were much more blessed to be seen and not heard.
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He sat me down abruptly and through clenched teeth said, "Now, you sit right here, and don't you say another word."
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Crocodile tears formed in my dark brown eyes as my little heart broke in two. I had been so proud of my assumption and wanted my daddy to be proud of me, too. So as the crowd settled down again and my father regained his composure I turned my tear stained face up to him and my voice resounded as I said, "But Daddy, I want to see God, too."
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My father recalls feeling about an inch high at that moment. And my life seems to be driven by that one recognition from a three year old mind: Surely there is a God and if there is a God then I want to know who He is.
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I don't recall a time in my life when I was not absolutely certain God existed, however, I had mixed up ideas about Him. My penchant for fear of authority made me believe that God was huge, largely unconcerned with the petty and problematic nature of my life and well... He was far, far from me.
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We had bounced from church to church after moving to the Dallas/Fort Worth area when I was toddler. My father never quite finding a place that satisfied his need for the deep expository teachings he had received in Houston, and my mother not wanting to branch out on her own. My younger brother and I soon landed in the Church of Christ in Granbury, Texas after our family moved there in the mid-70s to build a home. We road the Joy Bus, sang songs about God and got the prize! Candy and Sodas were promised and delivered each week as we made the fifteen mile ride into church on the big yellow bus. We attended Sunday School, church services and occasionally Vacation Bible School. And seeds were planted in those early days.
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My parents visited a few churches in the area, but nothing fit the bill so they returned us home to listen to the exegetical teachings of their pastor in Houston and we continued to grow up. By the early 80s traveling evangelist often made the circuit to middle and high schools where they offered the students pizza and fun if they would attend the week's youth service that night. I attended with my friends and found the environment appealing. I even knew a few kids who regularly attended the churches we visited, but I didn't know much about God. However, in 1982, my parents began to take us to Grace Bible Church near our home. The small five room stone church was led by a young seminary graduate whose expository teaching was not quite the exegetical style of Pastor Thieme, but was also not the lacking milk-toast sermons my father had refuted in other churches. We settled down to stay a while. I became involved in the youth ministry there and attended Christian concerts, swim parties and youth fellowship activities at Six Flags and Wet-N-Wild. It was during our first year at Grace that I had a revelation one day during the worship message. I needed Christ as my Lord and Savior.
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I shared this with my parents on our way home that day and they called the pastor who brought the elders and youth minister over that week to speak with me about my decision. They left me with some Scriptures and questions to answer promising to return in a week. At age twelve, I was a mediocre student at best. I remember thinking that I might not pass the test - and then what?
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But thankfully when the week had passed and I presented my answers the elders had the assurance and right there in our family living room with the elders of my church and my parents present I prayed to receive Christ as my Savior. I was baptized a few weeks later on a cold, rainy October morning after an all night sleepover with friends. It was a glorious time. We continued to attend there until a church split over the pastor's marital problems left my parents disgruntled and disillusioned with the church at large. We never darkened the doors of a church as a family again.
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With my new found Salvation, I longed to know more but understood very little of what I was being taught by tape each night at home. My father bought commentaries and hosted discussions, but nothing really stuck to me - so to speak.
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Things at home had always been turbulent and my mother had high expectations and low tolerance for my strong-willed attitudes. I grew up hearing stories of how my birth had nearly cost my mother her life, given her high blood pressure - well, and by the time I was an adolescent, I was often in full blown rebellion. I was deemed "the Problem Child."
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My mother had vowed in her heart that her children would never suffer lack or need the way she had as a child - and she was the most over-protective, intuitive mother when it came to these issues. My lack of compliance with her ideas left her at a loss of what to do with me, and so I was often disciplined, believed I was hated and uncertain of what to do to improve the standard. By my teen years, my father was working and driving around 60-70 hours a week and concluding his half a decade building project, our family home. The environment at home was tenuous at best with Momma's reluctant participation in the building project and the usual responsibilities of little league, room mom and raising three children. It was hardly ideal.
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My father was a strict authoritarian and my mother had a wounded heart from childhood rejection and poverty. The relationship was ripe with contention and strife. Their arguments and volatile relationship spilled over into our lives and left deep wounds that it took years to heal in my life. I grew up with high drama and histrionics that left me with a short temper and a lot of words. I now know my parents did what they knew to do at the time, and meant no harm to each other or their children. Yet, life was what it was and I had a deep father love hunger and a root of fear buried so deep in my soul I lived out of it until just a couple of years ago.
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I had an illegitimate child, my son, at age seventeen which left my mother further disillusioned with me and went on to marry the first guy who came along and paid attention. Our relationship was full of high drama and violence. My passion and his anger often did not mix and the end result was broken walls and at times a blow landing my way. I was classic battered woman, he was classic abused child from a broken home. We had two more children, my beautiful, gracious and glorious girls, in our three and a half years of marriage before I left after a final bout of blows. We tried to reconcile but a few months later we were on our way to divorce court and I was on my way to the desert. My prodigal journey began.
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During our last year of marriage we met a seminary couple who began an apartment ministry where we lived. I began to attend Bible study and teach the children at the weekly service. It was a joy to me, and the first opportunity I ever had to publicly share my testimony. Leaving there, left me at a continued loss for God and the desire I had to know Him more. I read the Bible I had received from the seminary couple, but understood little - still seeds were planted.
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I spent the next five years in and out of relationships with men, promiscuity and alcohol were my two escapes. I was literally looking for love in all the wrong places, on the wrong side of the law and broke most of the time. I nearly ended up dead as a result of one of those relationshps and after sending my children to live with their father for a year and finally returning home to my folks, I began to task of discovering who I really was. But, without God in the mix - very little came to me during those months of writing and searching and reading. My second husband, Scott, came along in this season.
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We met in a situation that could have been the tag line for a "Jerry Springer meets Jenny Jones" kind of show, but somehow he stuck and I pretended to be perfect so he wouldn't leave. That didn't last too long, because a person with skeleton's in the closet usually finds that they rattle on out - and so they did. A few months after I was seriously injured in a car accident after leaving a bar, my then fiance learned all the difficult and horrible secrets of my past.
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I released him that day as he left my house saying, "If you never come back, I would really understand."
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He said he had to think about things and would let me know. I thought I would never see him again, but I did.
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He called around midnight that evening to say, "I love you and don't want to live my life without you."
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We married a few months later and blended two broken families into one. Our children embraced the throws of step-siblings with all the gusto of a backyard brawl. The boys came to blows and the two youngest even slapped and choked at one another. So, with two eldest boys and two youngest girls we had to find a place in the hierarchy of our home for each child. I had visions of Brady Bunch dancing in my head while our five children drew quarters and my middle girl took on the role of "Switzerland." Couple that with battling the exes, custody and support fights and we had a regular old battle royal going on most of the time. But, we stuck together. Crazy and in love are the only two explanations of our marriage's survival in those early days.
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It was about this time I realized something that threatened to send me packing. My husband not only was not saved, but he had very little idea of who God was or why He was important. I scrambled my brains trying to figure out how I had ended up married to yet another ungodly man and found myself at a loss to explain why it was important that he be a godly man. After all he was a good man.
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We began visiting churches and landed at a little Baptist church in Rhome by way of an after school program my children attended twice a week. This little church caught my attention and my husband would go to every service with me each week. I told the pastor, "I'm not here for me. I'm here because my husband isn't saved and my children need to know Jesus." God had other plans.
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Within three months we were actively involved in ministries, with the kids in youth and children's ministry and Taylor a member of the Kids Music and Theater program. We were at rehearsals and getting ready for the big Christmas musical when my husband leaned over one morning to ask, "If I go down there what should I say?"
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My heart leapt for joy as I advised him to tell the truth, he didn't know what it meant to be saved. He accepted Christ that morning, my praise and worship of God broke free and real change came to our family. Scott was baptized that night before the Christmas musical as my mother and our children and I watched on. All three of my children accepted Christ that winter and were baptized in the Spring.
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We returned to the desert, bankrupt and in need of a place to live. We moved back in with my parents and lived there for a year. My son's emotional and behavioral problems spun out of control and I took to home-schooling him. Life was hardly ideal but we pressed on. My husband began to turn away from God as we missed church more and more. We tried visiting other churches, but nothing resonated as home so we just waited. I did a Bible study called "Experiencing God" and was encouraged to confess the adultery related to divorce that Scott and I had in our marriage. I did on my part and shared my heart with Scott about it. Within months our relationships with our exes were improving and then we had an unexpected surprise.
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Scott and I went by the Post Office in Rhome one day - I don't know why we did, but we did. The pastor of our church was there and he told us that he and his wife had been praying for us regularly that God would bring us back to Rhome. I told the pastor I was just praying for God to move us and so we exchanged more pleasantries and went our separate ways.
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Late that next week, my husband came home and said, "We're going to church on Sunday."
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I said, "Which church?"
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He said, "Our church."
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My heart did a summersault as I felt God was answering our prayers. Within three months of our return to church we moved into an old rent house in Rhome proper. It was owned by the son of a former church member. My heart was overjoyed. Our family had a home again. We settled right back into church and community and family. My son still homeschooled and my daugthers returned to their middle school. Life felt good again. I began to grow and learn and Scott did, too. The kids were thriving at church and even Justin's problems began to settle down. The future was bright.
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Within a few months of our return we signed up to help with the youth ministry. We had two kids there and both Scott and I felt God leading us in that direction. But, for me, the three service committment meant little time for me to grow and I soon was feeling dry and in need of refreshment. I sought the Pastor's wife for a summer Bible study and we did Beth Moore's "Beloved Disciple" in my little home office each week that summer. By the end she invited me to facilitate a Beth Moore study at the church and so began our women's ministry.
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I began to thrive in that environment and through the study of His Word, some untimely circumstances, and even a few misguided steps I realized I needed to step out of the role of youth helper and fully embraced my position as the women's ministry leader. And... that is when it happened. My life began to change. God did amazing things in my life and turned my heart, my head and my world upside down.
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I didn't just want to know Him more, I had to know Him more. I was hungry and had found what satisfied: the deep and tasty meat of His Word. I wrote a few lessons, hosted a conference and served where I could as I could. But in 2005, our lives threatened to unravel again as Justin and his diagnosed ADHD/Bi-Polar Disorder resurfaced with a vengance. It tore at the fabric of our home, left us in fear for him and our other children. We had him arrested, knew most of the police officers in town by name and had to vow not to let the painful realities in our life destroy our marriage or our family.
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Those two years in Bible study before this season had prepared me for what would come next. The automobile accident that put my son in a coma for eight days and finally called him home. Life has been different, but my faith has been stronger than ever before.
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Today we are at a new church with new opportunities. Our children are on the cusp of adulthood and living life as teenagers do... with their parents as guard rails and occasional guides. I have written and teach a curriculum on Grief Recovery for grieving moms and love the life we have.
Satan intended from the very beginning of my life to steal, to kill and to destroy any good that God had planned for me. He met me at every turn, and at times I went his way --- but, one thing I know today is this. He did not win.
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When Justin died, Satan tried to convince me he had killed my son, stolen my faith and destroyed my family, but the truth is this: He didn't kill my son - Justin is safe and alive in heaven. He didn't steal my faith - it is stronger and more real than ever before. He didn't destroy my family - we are thriving and better than we have ever been. Though the road has been long, difficult and riddled with shameful moments, pitfalls and potholes... I wouldn't trade a moment of it to this very day because I know my God is real, His Word is true and that whatever He has promised - no matter how I try to screw it up - He will deliver in the end. His grace, His mercy and His peace abound in my life. And I do love Him so. I am so thankful He never gave up on a wretched and wayward sinner like me for though I have often been lost, now I am found - though I was once spiritually blind, now I can see... His grace washes over me anew every single day.
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"And the days of your mourning
shall come to an end!"
~ Isaiah 60:20
(my memory)
August 23, 2008
(the third anniversary of Justin's homegoing.)
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If he did it for me - he will do it for you. Hold on, friends, Hold onto Jesus - He will see you through.
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I have been asked to include this paragraph from Heather with my post:
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This week, many of us bloggers have devoted a special post in which we are sharing our personal testimonies of the Lord's work in our lives and/or that of our families. Our collective prayer is that this sharing of our testimonies will not only encourage each other and give Glory to our Lord, but also show the love of Christ to those who happen upon our blogs. To enjoy many more testimonies like the one you've just read please visit us at "Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving."

7 comments:

Melanie said...

Wow, Michelle... what a powerful testimony! How thankful I am that you have relied on God and allowed Him to give you the strength to keep moving forward regardless of the circumstance. Thank you so for sharing so straight from your heart!

Yolanda said...

This is even more beautiful than what you have been sharing with me. God's redemption, is a beautiful place to be found in....under His wings.

Love ya!

Giving Thanks said...

Michelle... That's an awesome testimony girl! I can't tell you how blessed I am sitting here reading your testimony and those of the others as well. God is just so incredible in every which direction! Praise Him, Praise Him, Praise Him! Thank you for the sharing your testimony. I know the Lord will be blessed by this action.

With A Grateful Heart,
Heather

Shanda said...

Praising God for all that He has brought you through and how He is currently at work in your life!

May your Thanksgiving be richly blessed!

Denise said...

Such a beautifully awesome testimony dear, be blessed.

Tammy said...

Praising God for the beautiful and amazing work He has done in your life. Thanks for sharing...

Daveda said...

What a powerful story of God's grace and unfailing love. I think it is so awesome that you realize the enemy has not won! Thank you for sharing. Happy Thanksgiving!